Our nation has been devastated three times in less than six months by three horrific natural disasters.

From Hurricane Harvey in Houston, to Hurricane Irma in Florida, to the wild fires of California last month, America has witnessed unprecedented destruction. Never before have we seen so many tragedies in such a short time.

Your Federation mobilized quickly to respond to the devastation in Houston, which just weeks prior had so graciously hosted us for our very successful Convention.

In order to maximize response, a Disaster Relief Committee was formed. Chaired by Past President Yacoub Zayed, the committee includes Federation President Hanna Hanania, Deputy President George Habeeb, Basem Hishmeh, Past President Terry Ahwal, Dr. Rajai Khoury, Bajis Katwan, and Gina Shatara.

Working closely with Marwan Mufarreh and Jeff Zaid – the new and immediate past Houston club presidents – we coordinated efforts with them, the leadership team, and with Saint George Orthodox Church, the spiritual home of our Houston community.

After the first Houston trip – the preliminary assessment known as Phase One – we developed a clearer understanding of the myriad challenges faced by those impacted by the storm.

Virtually all those affected throughout metropolitan Houston had no flood insurance; many lost everything. In addition to addressing the most basic necessities – food, water, clothing, medication, shelter, financial assistance – a host of unfamiliar challenges also had to be met.

Navigating the challenges of filing claims, dealing with insurance companies and
FEMA, and finding qualified, trustworthy structural engineers to assess damage and render opinions regarding reconstruction – these are things most of us have never done. When you’ve lost everything, are in shock and in survival mode, these administrative and legal details simply aren’t top of mind, and are harder to handle because of one’s emotional state.

In Houston, we learned the value of collaborations – not only with the support of many local clubs throughout the country – but with external organizations. By adding their manpower to leverage and expand our reach, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and the Arab Community Center / Farouk Shami Center were invaluable partners in our Houston efforts.

Blessedly, our communities in Jacksonville and surrounding areas were spared the worst of Hurricane Irma. Their experience was nothing like Houston’s.

The California fires of Santa Rosa destroyed a number of homes from our Ramallah community, but thankfully the families affected were fully insured, and their claims were
expedited.

This new initiative – unprecedented in the history of your Federation – has proven to be a template for the future. Our outreach efforts have been hugely appreciated. Through our work in Houston, we’ve provided assistance for many, including those beyond our immediate Ramallah family.

Never before have Ramallah family members in a devastated area been visited by a Federation President and a Palestinian Ambassador.

With an eye to the future, the committee’s unanimous recommendation is that the Disaster Relief committee should be sustained permanently.

Our finding – through the multiple mechanisms used to raise additional monies to fund Houston Phase Two – is that fundraising is very challenging: when multiple competing requests are presented simultaneously to an audience with finite resources, opportunities for success are constrained.

“Moving forward, we’ll be far more effective if we can be proactive, versus reactive,” said Past President Terry Ahwal.
Said Basem Hishmeh, “To that end, we would be more strategic by developing an emergency fund. This would enable us to be more consistent in our emergency response moving forward. If the committee becomes permanent, we would welcome new members aboard as former members rotate off.”

Committee Chair Yacoub Zayed echoed this sentiment, saying, “It’s important to keep this committee going, because we’ve had three events in less than six months. We learned so much from Houston. We made a difference, so we really need to keep this going.”